This post was originally created for Project Derailed (with a slight addendum)
After my recent post about the soon release of Changeling the Dreaming’s 20 year anniversary, I thought to myself, “Self, why not write a post about all of the Classic World of Darkness games?” So that is what I set out to do. The great thing about the World of Darkness franchise is twofold: First, the game is set in modern time. You, as the storyteller and players, can build an entire game around your surroundings or even make a character based on yourself. Unlike fantasy games, it is easier to get lost in a world that you already live in, just with the addition of meta-humans like hunters, werewolves, vampires, and so forth. Second, is the diversity. If stalking in the night like a vampire isn’t your thing, then you can play as a vengeance seeking hunter who wants to rid the world of all the evil monsters. Maybe the dark and dreary world is too much for you, well why not go for Changeling? It is beautiful and much more lighthearted. Maybe you feel more connected with nature, then Werewolf is for you. Maybe you feel that Dungeons and Dragons wizards and sorcerers are too constrained by a spell list, well then play Mage where your powers are only limited by your imagination. Variety is certainly the spice of life and World of Darkness flaunts that as one of its best assets.
However… Not everyone of the games was solid. Tragically there were a few in the set that just didn’t work well and will be lost to the sands of time. So this list is to commemorate all of the games for their successes and their failings. This is every game of Classic World of Darkness ranked from worst to best. NOW! I do want to clarify that this list DOES NOT INCLUDE New World of Darkness. I’m not a fan of New World of Darkness and have stayed away from the game that I have seen to be a more muddled version of its far superior predecessors. So with that said, I will only include those that are officially recognized as apart of the “Classic World of Darkness” Set.
We start this list with the game that is arguably the weakest link in the Classic World of Darkness franchise. Which is tragic, on a gameplay stand point, Mummy is not that bad. It has some good stuff in there and being one of the last games to be released under the original banner has the best version of the Classic World of Darkness D10 playing style. However, Mummy is sadly a game that is a little too niche for anyone to fully enjoy.
Taking a page out of Changeling’s book, you are forced to play white hat good guys who have taken a vow to fight the enemies of Apophis and Set. While the Ancient Egyptian lore is to be commended, being a game of World of Darkness, the majority of the players like a certain “gray area” when it comes to being good or evil. To make a game set squarely on being a good guy with little ways around that mixed in with the fact that if you aren’t in to Ancient Egyptian stories, you are tragically left on the outside looking in… This game was failed to disappear to the sands of time to only be remembered by those ten to twenty people who fondly remember it.
I struggled between the Demon the Fallen and Mummy the Resurrection to take the top spot as worst game on this list. Ultimately, it was MtR’s too fine pointed niche market and goody-goody attitude that just barely won over Demon the Fallen’s broken game play that makes it nearly impossible to play on a mythos level. Demons in classic World of Darkness are angels that sided with Lucifer during the fight against God. They come in many different versions. Some full on follow Lucifer and believe in him while others are looking for ways back into heaven because they know they done fucked up big time.
Demons, as a singular character or an antagonist, are perfect. They have the right amount of evil and mystique to them to make them a great nonplayer character… But to run a campaign is damn near impossible. By the mythos, Demons tend to be very singularly focused. They like to work alone and working together is something of a necessary evil that is temporary at best. To create an entire game where the whole party has barely any reason to work together other then “I need you right now, but tomorrow is a different story” makes for a difficult game to go on longer than a few weeks. Out of all the games, it is one of them that has one of the best concepts, but one of the worst possible executions.
I am sure that there are many who are wondering why this isn’t marked as the worst. Out of all the games in the franchise, this is the one that I hear the most vehement and pure unadulterated hatred for. In a way I can understand its existence. Vampire the Masquerade, while amazing, is almost exclusively a North American and European endeavor. While there are some that are in India and China as well as Africa (though that gets a little muddled and odd) there isn’t much of a game for those who love Eastern culture. Hence, Kindred of the East was created. Based on old Chinese mythology, the idea of the Kuei Jin is that they are similar to regular vampires, but they are on a spiritual quest and feed off life essence.
While being a subsidiary of the VtM game franchise, the game received criticism for going a little “too far” away from the source material and creating an unoriginal version of “Asian Vampires.” It has been used, primarily to create antagonists for VtM, but very few play it as a stand alone game due to its unpopularity. While I can understand the hatred it gets, I do applaud the game for being original as well as being mechanically sound. It also gives vampires a true enemy that isn’t rooted in the Sabbat, which has become a favorite to many.
Similar to some of the others prior to this, Wraith is somewhat lost to the larger World of Darkness community. However, unlike the others, I am well aware of a strong and fervent fanbase who love the game. Taking on the role as a recently deceased spirit who has yet to pass on to the afterlife. As such, you are able to slightly manipulate, but not entirely control, both realms.
The game is liked and disliked precisely for its mechanics which are certainly one of the most involved in the series. The games creator, Mark Rein-Hagen, wanted the game to be much more involved and required you to be an advanced player of World of Darkness to even play it. It is due to this that it is loved by many. For some that love the game, Wraith is like the “hardcore mode” of World of Darkness. You don’t even touch it unless you are well aware of the gameplay and how it works. It is because of this that it is generally lost. Due to its advanced mechanics, you cannot indoctrinate new players to the world. New players are what drive a franchise. If you start off by saying “this is for experts”, then you deny yourself a major player base. While I can respect the sentiment and agree with it to an extent… It is because of this that many people other games more than this one. You never forget your first, and this, more than likely, won’t be your first.
Please, I am begging you, leave a comment if you know what Orpheus is and that it was apart of Classic World of Darkness. I didn’t even know about it and had to track down a copy of the book and read it. This is a game that is completely lost on me and after talking to some other friends who are fans of the gaming franchise, that seems to be a shared sentiment between most of them.
Orpheus is a good concept, focusing on the dead after the Seventh Malstrom. With the creation of the book, it covers just about every dead and meta-human entity in the Classic World of Darkness line. However, I cannot put it any higher on this list due to the fact that it is almost completely forgotten on the majority of the community and was overshadowed by Promethean in New World of Darkness, a much more well known and well received game.
Beyond this point are games that are generally amazing. While I do find significant error with the five that came before it, the rest of the five are assessed on which one is the best game and the most iconic game. Out of all of them, Mage found itself in the fifth slot of the Top 5. Mage is an excellent game. It is one of the first game that took the concept of a mage and let the magic used by a mage be limited only to the nine spheres of magic and the imagination of the player. They open up the entire modern world for a mage to create. Just with moderate power in few spheres of magic, a little imagination, and the approval of the storyteller, you can move mountains in a very literal sense. It is also the game that takes advantage of the modern setting by having the game square off against traditionalist and those who believe in the Technocratic Union. It is due to this that the game can branch out and cover ancient magical lore as well as incorporating Cyberpunk into the mix.
Where Mage falls short and the reason that it is fifth on the list is twofold. First, Mage is a game that requires a great deal of imagination and thought to play. This isn’t a game where you can just come in, like D&D, take your four spells, and roll with the punches. You genuinely have to think about what you can do with moderate levels of entropy, high levels of life, and novice levels of spirit. It wouldn’t be wrong for a person who likes to play Mage to have literal lists of things that he can do with his powers in the various combinations. This type of gameplay is not meant for everyone and can alienate those who are not as imaginative as others. Second, the game is polarizing. I have found that if you are a World of Darkness fan, you either love Mage or you hate Mage. This is why it is so popular is that it has a very large and dedicated fan base. But those who are not into Mage typically find it hard to follow and the players to be somewhat protective of their game to the point of annoyance. It is an amazing game, but simply not meant for everyone.
One of my personal favorite games, Hunter the Reckoning along with one that will soon come are two of the most successful non core games in the World of Darkness franchise. Hunter is easily one of the most personable of the games. Unlike other games where you have to become a vampire or be born a werewolf or be born in a certain circle/meet a criteria to become a mage, Hunter the Reckoning is a group of misfit people seemingly randomly selected by “God” to fight the evils of the world. They come in many varieties, some meant to be leaders, some meant to be fighters, and those who are meant to befriend and nurture those demons they are fighting.
Hunters are fun due to the fact that they have an immense amount of power against the evils of darkness… But are so horrifically decentralized and confused that they can barely wield the power. With the exception of the HunterNet, a webpage set up by another Hunter, they are basically on their own. What is even great as well is the randomness of people. This isn’t merely a selection of the “best and brightest”, a hunter can be anyone. It can be a serial killer and a warden of a prison. It can be a housewife with four children and a biker who now have to work together to fight off the horrors of the night. The list can go on and on. This odd couple makes for great dynamics and incorporate different types of lives together under the banner of “Well we need to work together or we are all fucked.” Just like Mage though, it is a niche game that has a decently sized group of followers who absolutely love the game, myself included. I can understand why people dislike it. It does take a lot of the “coolness” of other characters in World of Darkness and humbling them a pain staking extent. But overall it is a great game which is why it finds itself just short of the bronze metal.
Coming in third is the second of the core sets with Werewolf the Apocalypse. This game is a perfect blend of an environmentalist and a person who adores being a furry tank made of nasty’s wet dream. Werewolves, or Garou, as the game calls them, takes much influence from Native American routes as well as embedding itself firmly in nature. Werewolves are in a constant battle with their own extinction as well as constantly battling an evil known as Wyrm that threatens to destroy the entire world.
One of Werewolves greatest assets is the fact that it can appeal to many people. Unlike other games that fall into a niche category, Werewolf has a little something for everyone. Not a big fan of the whole “Native American save the environment thing?” Play the game as a Glass Walker or a Bone Gnawer. The game opens itself up to many different styles of gaming and focuses on a subject as grim and wonderful as the apocalypse, making it one of the best and most fitting games of the franchise.
Changeling the Dreaming is an odd case. It is one of those rare instances where you don’t know you want something until you have it available to you. Changeling the Dreaming was an ambitious experiment to say the least. The games that came before Changeling fit the World of Darkness pattern. They were all dark, gritty, and by all accounts followed the black gothic overtones that the game was always going for. Changeling the Dreaming was something completely different. The entire premise of the game was that you were a fae creature fighting off the gray banality of the world. The hedge and its surroundings were suppose to be gorgeous and follow a more fantasy like direction.
Unlike the failed misstep of Mummy that forced players into the white hat role, you are welcome to play as a member of the Seelie or Unseelie court. While both are certainly no match for the darkness that is a typical World of Darkness game, it allows you to explore and take on the gray area role that players are used to taking with the game. It is the perfect blend of beauty, banality, and gameplay that makes Changeling the Dreaming such a gem as well as paving the way for its more involved New World of Darkness successor, Changeling the Lost.
Could it be any other game? Let’s be honest hear, we may all have our preferences, but Vampire the Masquerade is hands down the best and most renowned game in the entire Classic World of Darkness line and has earned its place as the flagship game of the franchise. There is no other game of the franchise that represents the true gothic darkness that the creators wanted to portray than VtM. After being embraced by one of the kindred, you take on the role of one of the 13 clans or countless bloodlines to live out your days as a vampire. You must fight back political intrigue, hunt during the night, all the while fighting off the beast that is buried deep inside you demanding that you give in to your urges and become a mindless monster.
The game that was created in the early 90’s has remained relevant and evolved over the decades and remains a favorite among people who love roleplaying games to this day. Even from my own personal opinion, I feel that Vampire the Masquerade is the best and most accurate portrayal of vampires in the entire world. While other games offer enjoyment from a very niche market, Vampire the Masquerade is a game that everyone can enjoy and is perfect to indoctrinate new players into the World of Darkness mythos. It is the flagship of the franchise and easily the best game in the line up.
Thank you for reading. Please like and subscribe for more from Project Derailed and check out my other website, Tanner Reviews!